The What: Food and Money – The Tango Tangle

THE WHAT: FOOD AND MONEY  – THE TANGO TANGLE

My heart pinched inside my chest as I listened to the cashier’s announcement of the total price of my Publix grocery purchases.  “Absurd amount of money!” is the first reaction internally followed by a justification speech by the concerned mother/caretaker in me that knows it’s better to spend money on good food for my family even if it tightens the household budget in other areas.  This scenario repeats itself and the outcome is the same at least for me: I choose quality of food over cheapness and quantity any day.  What are the economic and environmental factors that any of us face today when making our food choices on a daily basis?

THE WHO

The perspective on who we’re buying food for obviously affects our choices.  Whether you’re single, married, living with roommates, with children, with elderly—all these groupings carry their respective needs, wants and overall themes.  Personally I can attest to the interesting blend of tastes I accommodate in my cooking and choosing of groceries as I have a husband, two boys under 4 years old (one an infant) and two octogenarians.  When I look around at many of my colleagues with children, it seems a majority of parents today are very sensitive to the question as to whether the produce they purchase is organic or not.  It turns out that there are some produce items that are more critical to buy organic like spinach and berries because of how porous the skin is and therefore easily absorbs pesticides.  Some websites you may find helpful for resource information:   www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org , www.non-gmoreport.com , www.healthychild.org , www.texasgrassfedbeef.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.foodnavigator.com

THE WHY

Organic, non-genetically modified and local are some of the current buzz food words.  The term organic always makes me chuckle for a nanosecond as there’s hundreds of years of human evolution coursing through my blood that reminds me all food was once “organic” without the labeling.  It’s just that in the last century or so that our civilized societies started to meddle beyond what hybrid practices were in place already in agriculture.  It is interesting to note that recently many farmers are returning to using more natural methods in their crop and livestock management—part of it could be the increased consumer demand for organic products and another part may be that it has been found more cost-effective to use better sustainability practices on the environment when cultivating the Earth or animal stocks.  Again, my own battle is complicated when it comes to whether I buy organic, conventional or local food products.  I prefer organic but it’s not always available or cost-effective.  Local produce is desirable because I like supporting the farmers in Florida and it’s fresher with less gas emissions spent on its transport to my kitchen.  At the same time, a pint of blueberries from Peru may be farmed with the best ecological-friendly practices and taste better than the pesticide-laden ones from a few counties away.  Here are a few more resources that may be helpful:  www.farmigo.com , www.localharvest.org , www.slowfoodusa.org , http://foodnews.org/ , www.foodnavigator.com , www.environmentalhealthnews.org , www.biointegrity.org , www.localfoodswheel.com , www.greenling.com

THE WHEN

Sometimes I wish I were ignorant and just went to the store and was able to buy the cheapest of everything to feed my household.  The truth is irreversible once attained; I know what is best for my family’s situation and it happens to be a diet that contains the freshest fruit, vegetables, dairy, legumes, meats and then on to the grains, pastas and et cetera.  Making the conscious choice to use less canned products and other foods that contain more harmful ingredients in process/preservation means that our grocery bill is higher than it would be if I blindly chose based solely on cheap economics.  Not everyone thinks through what they buy when at the grocery store but it’s only a matter of time when many if not most of us will realize that how we eat is like a form of preventative medicine for our bodies.  The cost you may incur now can serve to defray future medical costs after years of eating products that can slowly sabotage your body’s ability to fight off infection and other illnesses.   Then there’s the question of the effect on our environment by our agricultural practices and that factors into many people’s choices of food economics.  Social impact in the form of “fair trade” practices is yet another factor weaving into our ethos as consumers of groceries for ourselves.  Some more websites for your personal research:  www.fairtradeusa.org , www.greenamerica.org , www.fairtraderesource.org , www.kidsorganics.com , www.rodaleinstitute.org , www.opensecrets.org , www.allergykids.com  , www.usda.gov , www.fda.gov

This blog post is woefully inadequate in addressing all the various facets involved in the economic and social challenge we face in our food purchases as the commodity prices continue to rise on a monthly basis.  I hope it at least helps in starting a conversation or a journey for information as this is an issue that will continue to grow in importance as we face upcoming agricultural changes and trade practices that can affect both the quality and quantity of our food in America particularly.

RVSB

 

A Study Report You May Have Missed This Week: Link Between ADHD & Pesticides

Good Thursday to all of you!  It’s been a busy week yet again in my personal orbit but I haven’t forgotten the one little Associated Press report I read in my local paper that had been stuffed/hidden in page 7a.  This was released back on Monday, May 17th, you can Google search to find it or just go to this Time publication link: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1989564,00.html

The title of the report simply describes it: “Study Links Kids’ ADHD to Pesticides”.  It turns out that a recent study has scientists buzzing about and clamoring for more research studies to be conducted on the possible health effects of pesticides on children.  A quote worth remembering from the study: “In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that ca be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children.”

That’s right, whether or not the pesticides themselves can put our children at greater risk for health problems such as ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is going to be up for more debate as more research studies is needed–however, the sad and sobering truth remains that we are absorbing these chemicals into our bodies when exposed and our children being smaller are really taking a hit physically.

Unfortunately, this particular report doesn’t determine/reveal how the children in the study were exposed to the pesticides: had they eaten food treated with it, breathed it in the author or swallowed it in their drinking water?

The findings that were published on Monday in “Pediatrics” have the lead author Maryse Bouchard from the University of Montreal saying that one way we can limit our family’s exposure to pesticides is to eat organic produce when available and scrub all produce to get external residue off (regrettably, some things like blueberries and strawberries will have the highest concentration of pesticides absorbed in the fruit-so do try getting organic fresh or frozen.)

For my own family, I do try when available to purchase organic produce, but it’s not always in the store right?  That’s probably why I also try to grow in my garden items that our family regularly consumes in our weekly menus so that I can control what the plants are exposed to.  But what about rain that may fall with pollutants from the atmosphere?  We have to temper our aversion to the reality that our human society is polluted whether we like it or not.  As consumers, we still have some power play left as we can guide the market to reduce its dependence on poisons such as widespread pesticide use.  However, we must educate and arm ourselves with information as to what we want ourselves and our families to be exposed to when eating certain products.  Ultimately, you make the choice as to what path your household will consume whether it be based on environmental or cost-effective terms.

Here are a couple of helpful online resources for your own personal research needs: www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org and www.heathlychild.org, www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.foodandwaterwatch.org , www.ewg.org  .

RVSB

American Apparel…What a concept!

This is a blog short…I want to share my recent experience that was really a fluke but I’m glad it happened since I may be addicted now.

There is a store in some malls, maybe one near you, called American Apparel.  The first time I saw one was about 5 months ago in Boca Raton, Florida and it looked like a bunch of clothes from the 80s that I wasn’t too attracted to walk in and check out any further.

Instead, it took me until last Thursday when I yet again stumbled by another American Apparel store and actually decided to walk in and take a closer look since I had satiated my dear son with some mango sorbet.  Don’t worry, I asked the nice young ladies behind the register desk if I could bring my stroller in with my toddler slurping sorbet.

Again, I was a bit overwhelmed by the clash of Broadway meet the Eighties and Dirty Dancing scattered about in the style of clothes.  But then I finally saw something that caught my eye, it was a sign near the cash register describing American Apparel true appeal: this is an American owned and operating company that uses an “efficient, vertically integrated system” that “means heightened quality control and greater flexibility in design”.

Basically, this racket operates out of Los Angeles where they knit, dye and stitch the fabric together to make clothes for infants through adults, boys and girls, men and women. Made in the U.S.A.  You can look them up at http://www.americanapparel.net

In addition, they strive to use organic cotton where possible and I only bought three items but am ecstatic with them.  One is a toddler fine jersey which I washed and put on my son today.  It is so soft and the design is a basic shirt but you can tell the stitching is of good quality.  It’s full price was $11–yes,that seems steep, but it really felt good to put a piece of clothing on my child that was made in our country under good conditions and intentions.

I also bought a scarf that I wear on my head like a Greek island villager, I LOVE it and have vowed to go back and get more or at least order some online.  The third item is a cherry red collared shirt for my son, its stitching is notably of good design and I look forward to dressing him in it soon.

Moral of the story is that one shouldn’t immediately dismiss a store because it may seem like they carry 1980’s throw-backs.  Even though American Apparel definitely can give off that vibe, their company methodology makes it worth trying to find what styles may fit our wardrobe and ease our over-stimulated-with-Made-in-China consciences.

RVSB

A is for April: And 3 Other A’s

It’s amazing that we’ve plowed into April, already a fourth of the year 2010 behind us!  This past weekend I’ve been saturated in three other things starting with April’s first letter: Alithos Anesti, Agave and Aveda.

ALITHOS ANESTI!

Yesterday and for the next few weeks, Christian Orthodox all over the world will greet each not with hello, but with “Christ is Risen!”, to which the receiving colleague will answer “Truly He has Risen!”.  In my Greek language the phrase is “Christos Anesti!”, response is “Alithos Anesti!”.

It is a religious tradition that to me is infectious. We not only celebrate our belief in the conquering theme of eternal life with our Creator over death, but we continue to remind ourselves of it as we proceed in the days following Easter (or in Greek known as Pascha).

As a family we attended several Holy Week evening services and on Saturday, my husband and I were able to leave our son with his Great Aunt as we went together for the Anastisi service that begins at around 11:30pm and didn’t conclude until sometime after 2am.  He helped the priest and deacon along with the acolytes behind the altar while I served as a chanter in parts of the service.  The beautiful tones, smells of incense and general euphoria of watching the candle light proceed forth from the altar and spread from person to person until the entire church was alight was very moving.

If you are not Christian or just don’t care for Easter, please don’t be offended by my saying that it truly is the best Christian holiday in my heart.  Although Christmastime commemorates the arrival of God in flesh, the celebration of His conquering death with renewed life offers so much hope to us all.

No matter what our cultural, racial or religious differences, I do believe that most humans sense there must be more than just this physical life experience that has limitations. Easter/Pascha marks the mysterious veil of death in our life cycle with the Joy that there is Life and Love ever after in His (He, She, It…whatever) Creation Eternal. Christos Anesti!

AGAVE

Random right? I was first introduced to Agave Nectar by a beer my husband brought home one night. Was pretty tasty, didn’t think much of it afterwards.

Recently, however, in my personal endeavors to learn more about the food my family eats and how to manage our nutrition better I have come across the notion of sweetening foods with agave nectar instead of sugar or honey.  Apologies that I can’t even think of the magazine that I recently stumbled upon a quick sentence or two about agave’s benefits because of its classification as a low glycemic sweetener-so I did I quick internet search to offer some links in case you’re interested.

No joke that there is a website called www.allaboutagave.com and I found it to be quite informative and extensive in specifics that you may have questions concerning agave and its possible health benefits.  Also it turns out I wasn’t the only one on the agave mind wavelength: evidently yesterday Ms. Karla Heintz posted a blog entry about using agave over sugar at http://www.parentdish.com/2010/04/04/should-you-use-agave-nectar-instead-of-sugar/  And then for you seekers of feel-good newspaper articles, here’s one from a day ago about a Colorado man finally hitting gold with his new soda invention containing agave as the sweetener: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/economy/colo-man-hits-sweet-spot-with-agave-based-soda-89862337.html

The common refrain is that agave is considered a low glycemic index (GI) sweetener that is therefore is slowly absorbed into the body that helps prevent the standard spike and crash that we encounter with table sugar.  Another claim is that it’s 25% sweeter than sugar so less amounts are needed for recipe conversions.

I’ve only just picked up the double-pack of Organic Blue Agave that was available at my local Costco and since used it in my morning coffee.  Definitely found that it had a lighter taste than the honey I’ve been trying to use instead of sugar in my daily cup of joe.  Couldn’t resist trying a drop of it on my finger as well and it seems to resemble a color of honey with a consistency of maple syrup but not as sticky.

If you are into gluten-free and low sugar nutrition, I recommend trying agave as it seems to be the new product becoming more available in our merchant centers.  If you’re curious for recipes containing agave, this was a fun site: www.OrganicSyrup.biz

AVEDA

As some of you may have read or heard from me personally, I have recently endured a miscarriage.  It has been a rollercoaster ride in terms of the physical, the hormonal, the emotional (not helped by the hormone frenzy) and probably the spiritual as well.

As a personal believer that all our senses are connected and can transcend even to our souls, I felt that this was a good time to take myself to a place where my physical body would be attended to so that my mental state could just relax and begin to heal.

I called my local Aveda spa that I’ve been to once before for a pedicure and manicure session that I took my mother-in-love to in recent months.  Having come across their literature before, I noticed that they had min-spa packages available for 3-4 hours that you could customize.  Given that I’m mother to a toddler, that seemed like a plausible scenario for this past Saturday.

I selected their Night on the Town package and got with that a peppermint manicure and pedicure, a light lunch, wine and tea to my heart’s desire, my hair washed, dried and put up, ending with a make-up session.  Usually I scoff at the idea of spending money on myself for such services, but having weathered one tough week as a woman, I welcomed the doting and the coddling by these generous Aveda women at Aveda’s Aspen Falls Spa in Jupiter, Florida: if you live here and would like to check them out http://www.aspenfallsaveda.com/

I’ve been loyal to Aveda products over the past decade since I was first introduced to them through a store that opened in one of my local Florida malls. Admittedly, they can be pricey, so I really tend to buy 2-3 products a year from them.  However, in my personal quest to seek the more natural, less synthetics ways to pamper or maintain my skin and hair, Aveda has come into my buying habits more often.

It seems that the company has made much headway in terms of expansion in America and has done a great job of committing to charities like those supporting clean water initiatives for those in other countries that lack it.  Their products have an uncanny way of smelling so good and even better in your mind as you read what the ingredients are and actually know what they are (like clove or bergamot oil instead of cocamidopropyl betaine?).

So, as I appreciated the light buzz after two glasses of wine along with a pedicure and manicure session, I enjoyed the sounds of Enya and other ethereal music in a quiet room with my rabbit salad and ginger vinaigrette–washing it down with the Aveda tea that is seriously addictive (sweetened by licorice root-who knew?).  I actually read through some of the Aveda product line and company information pamphlets and found that I really was glad that I was paying them for these services as they certainly served me and also contributed to a business whose practices I support.

If you’ve never walked into an Aveda store, check out their website at www.aveda.com if you’re interested in learning more about what they have and what they’re about as a company.

As for me, it was wonderful, simply awesome to walk out of Aspen Falls having been polished, catered to, a fun up-do and make-up on my face that smelled so good for hours afterwards. I was able to greet my husband afterwards on his birthday as a refreshed wife, lover and friend and go out and enjoy our Easter midnight service where we shared with our brothers and sisters in Christ that though we suffer death, there is Life.

RVSB

Book Review: “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien

Immediately I offer the disclaimer that I haven’t finished Robyn’s book but I have been ingesting what she has to say as I’m three-fourths through it and can hardly read quickly enough to keep up with my eagerness to know more from her research in this work.

“The Unhealthy Truth” was not a book readily available at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, I had it ordered and sent to my mailing address.  I encountered this book title in one of the women’s magazines I love (my personal trifecta: Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal).  The short paragraph review indicated that by journeying through her children’s allergies and food sensitivities, she uncovered more information leading to her conclusion that our food industry in America should be scrutinized more closely.

On the front cover of her book below the title reads: “How Our Food Is Making Us Sick- and What We Can Do About It.”  Cue that along with the photo image of a brown grocery bag with the skull and crossbones poison symbol that is full of specific basics being corn, milk, peanut butter, soybeans, eggs and bread–you have the simple introduction of what this book will dissect.

This is a must-read for parents that are concerned about what your family eats, that find yourselves getting stuck in a supermarket aisle because you are trying to read/comprehend the nutrition and ingredients label and so forth. My personally professed paranoia is axis of evil foods: genetically modified corn, soy and wheat.

She chronicles how she became more aware of allergies and food sensitivities after her baby daughter was diagnosed allergic to eggs, later she would also deal with a dairy issue with her son (in all she has four children, she names the children with the particular allergy/food sensitivities in the book).

The part I’m currently enthralled with although I admit is a bit dizzying reading for late at night is the chapter that begins on page 146 entitled: “True Colors”.  I have been pouring over this chapter, re-reading portions that refer to a 2007 study that came out of U.K.’s University of Southampton with findings related to the effects on children who ate food with artificial colors and preservatives. The results of the double-blind study (‘neither the subjects nor the researchers know who gets the real stuff and who gets the placebo’) were that those children that got the food coloring and sodium benzoate in their systems had specific behavioral changes like having trouble with attention span, more hyperactive and less calculated/more impulsive.

The chapter goes on to list other studies in Europe and Australia, particularly noting a food coloring that many of us American parents encounter every week: FD&C Yellow 5 or E102, also known as tartrazine.  Basically the stuff that helps your quick Mac-n-Cheese look like a nuclear orange party on macaroni.  Again, this is not easy reading through all these excerpts of various studies, however, it is most riveting and informative (and boiled-down, this Yellow 5 is NOT good for our kids, or us for that matter)…and downright humbling to our American food companies as other companies like Norway and the United Kingdom have dealt swiftly and thoroughly with questionable, unnecessary ingredients like Yellow 5/tartrazine.  For example, the following is the quote from Kraft Foods U.K. as relayed in O’Brien’s book:

  •           “Kraft Foods UK has no products aimed at children that contain the ingredients highlighted in the FSA [Southampton ] study…[W]ith our recent Dairylea Lunchables reformulation in the UK, we reduced fat and salt, as well as removed artificial colours and flavours. Without compromising quality, taste and food safety, we will continue to see where we can make changes and still meet consumer expectations.”

Without reading any further, ask yourself now if Kraft Foods in the UK made these changes to their food distribution, including removing the nuclear coloring that in some children has found to increase irritability, hyperactivity and insomnia…why wouldn’t the American division of Kraft Foods follow suit for their products that many if not most American families rely on? Your exasperation is magnified as O’Brien relays everything she learned so far.

The overall hilarious irony in this book is that O’Brien likens herself to the conservative/GOP soccer mom mold and yet through this personal journey and research has come to find that the gross ties that lie between government entities and food/pharmaceutical companies in often non-partisan.

If you get this book and find it a little paranoid in her information sharing or chunky with regurgitated research studies I do believe that it is worth the money for at least two parts of the book:

  1. Chapter 8: “This Is A Carrot” on page 225 helps walk you through how to begin reducing the amount of junk additives in your family’s menu, something I believe we can all agree is a good idea.
  2. Appendix: Organic 101 on page 271 breaks down what the difference is between “Organic” and “All Natural”, once again helping educate us in an area important to our family’s nutrition or giving us more confidence on what decisions we make.

I do recommend this book to everyone, even if you’re not a parent because food is still food and we all eat it and should know more about what we are taking into our bodies if we don’t grow and hunt our own stuff.

RVSB

Can We Afford to Be “Granola”? (Part 1)

What is Granola?

I believe it was about 5 years ago when one of my friends mentioned the state of being a “granola mom” when recalling her birthing experiences with her two children.  At the time I thought it was a pretty corny way of describing being “earthy”, “natural” and the tendency to lean toward products labeled “organic”.

As usual, in life we sometimes end up swallowing our own sarcasm as we walk right into the realm of possibilities we earlier thought ourselves immune.  I currently refer to myself as a “granola mom” but with a stipulation that I aim for the 80/20 rule (80% of the time I try to do the best for my family in terms of food and home purchases–that’s not to say I actually make that goal consistently).

In recent years as “living green” and propaganda films like former Vice-President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” have become common jargon and an underlying mantra for Americans and other citizens of planet Earth.  Yet, I have noted flaws in the system of environmentally friendly living that set up many folks for failure when they try do better for themselves and their families.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Let’s begin with one of the most ominous terms; the connotation is so heavy and complicated when we dwell on the word: environment.

As compelling as “The Inconvenient Truth” may have been to some of us and other programs by local groups or cable networks like Discovery and History Channel, these messages have rarely been able to mobilize the majority of those who view them.  My guess is that although books and media presentations can espouse protecting the environment, saving the environment and such as strong messages, they lack the simple instructions that the everyday person truly needs.  How can I, a mother, a father, a single person help to save the environment?  Forget owning a Toyota Prius, it has to be more involved than just one major purchase.

Here’s one idea, how about our personal waste habits?  I’m not just talking about having your multicolored recycling bins–although that is a start for many who still just throw everything into the same trash bag at home.  Picture this if you can’t get motivated:  take a shovel and dig a hole in your backyard (if you have one, if not, imagine a large open trash bin outside your door).  After digging the hole, proceed to dump your daily trash into that hole and watch it pile up over the course of the week.  In addition to the stench and attraction of bugs, et cetera, you may be getting the idea of how this will go without actually doing it.

That’s what we are all doing every week: we are dumping all of our trash into a big pile in our soil, the soil that feeds us, feeds all the animals around us, some of which we eat, some of which fertilize the other living things called plants that you eat if you are a vegetarian or a vegan.

So my offering is that perhaps all of us (including my flawed self) should actually do something we have sincere control over.  Let’s minimize our trash.  It costs us next to nothing to do so.  It just means we have to be more (gasp!) accountable to ourselves and make the extra effort.  Maybe we buy less products that aren’t already packaged in recyclable materials.  For those more ambitious, you can email or send snail mail to those companies who don’t use recycled or recyclable packaging.  Get your children involved in how they discard trash, they are much more adaptable than us rigid adults–perhaps they could show us the better example!

Another simple instruction that I can envision most people being capable of evolving as a part of their daily habits is directed to those who live near bodies of water used for recreation: beaches, rivers, streams, springs, ponds, lakes and the like.

I love taking my son T.A. to the beach, I’ve always been drawn to the intersection of land and water life crashing into each other on the shores.  As I’ve grown older I’ve become highly sensitive to the amount of trash found on the sand at public and private beaches: even the millionaire Palm Beach island is not immune to this tainted condition.

After several years of personal “tsk-tsking” and so-called goals to attend the next annual beach cleaning event (which I NEVER get around to), I finally found initiative after my son tangled himself in beach trash as an infant last year.  I grabbed one of my plastic grocery bags usually reserved for the surprise #2 item diaper and used it as both a glove and trash receptacle to pick up the trash around us.  A sense of peace descended on me as the sand finally was free of trash around and the bag was chock full of discards.

As I left the beach that fateful day, I looked back as we walked up the stairs to the street level and saw that a young woman was seating herself where we had been and was sitting in what seemed to be the start of a yoga meditation.  My heart warmed that we had helped someone else enjoy the beach for their personal purposes without the stress of enduring unnecessary trash.

Ever since I always pick up trash with my son during our beach visits, I know it may not make a huge difference in the big scheme of things.  However, imagine the possibilities if everyone who stepped foot onto a beach around the world either picked up trash or avoided littering?  The sad reality is that even my beloved Greece’s postcard-worthy beaches are becoming shore landfills with sometimes up to an inch thick of junk on the rocky and sandy shores.

Again, it doesn’t take throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars into drives to clean the beaches and advertising beach cleanup days that even the independently wealthy scarcely attend.  It simply takes you and I not allowing ourselves to trash or to ignore the trash by our water hole of choice.

To be continued…in Can We Afford to Be “Granola”? (Part 2)

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"